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Wenger plays down hype over Arsenal’s Europa League title chances

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Call it keeping his team grounded or suppressing expectations, but Arsene Wenger is refusing to consider Arsenal favorites heading into its UEFA Europa League quarterfinal matchup against CSKA Moscow.

As the last Premier League club left in the competition, Arsenal are currently the favorites in England to take the title, but Wenger didn’t want his players to get ahead of themselves.

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“We don’t live in dreamland, we are in a quarter-final and we have to be very realistic and go step by step and give everything to go through in the quarter-final,” Wenger said. “Then we’ll see.”
To say it’s been a tough season for Arsenal and its fans is an understatement.
The club are set to finish outside the top-four in the Premier League for the second consecutive season and the club has won just four Premier League games this calendar year (out of ten). Fans are staying away from the Emirates Stadium in droves to protest the current state of the club, which seems to be on the brink of crisis after every defeat.
Considering the context, perhaps this wasn’t the best time for Wenger to lower expectations on what has already been a disappointing season by Arsenal’s old standards. You can forgive fans for dreaming of silverware in Europe, something that has eluded Arsenal during its years in the European Cup and Europa League.
Arsenal faces CSKA Moscow on Thursday’s first leg at the Emirates Stadium, and we’ll see if Arsenal can get off to a great start like it did against AC Milan in the Round of 16.

Wilshere could have left Arsenal last August

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It’s hard to imagine an Arsenal team without Jack Wilshere on the books, but it nearly came to be during last summer’s transfer window.

Speaking openly in England’s training camp this week, Wilshere detailed how Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger approached him one day in August and told him the England international wasn’t in Wenger’s plans.

“It was an honest conversation,” Wilshere told The Guardian. “It had been boiling up for a while. Everybody knew I had a year left on my deal and had been out on loan, got injured and wasn’t really in his plans. He just said: ‘At the moment we are not going to be offering you a contract so, if you can get one somewhere else, you can go.’”

Wilshere said that he looked around but ultimately wanted to win his place back in the Arsenal first team, and he did so by November, after mainly playing in the Carabao Cup and UEFA Europa League through the first three months of the season.

This week, Wilshere earned a recall to the England National Team for the first time since the Three Lions’ disastrous defeat in Euro 2016 to Iceland and he’s played 31 appearances this season in all competitions, the most since the 2013-2014 season, showcasing a new-found fitness level.

That being said, Wilshere hasn’t found the form for Arsenal that earned him plaudits in the past from Xavi Hernandez. Wilshere looked off the pace in Arsenal defeats to Tottenham, Ostersunds and Manchester City in February, failing to make an impact in his central midfield role.

Wilshere has three months left on his contract, and while he said it wouldn’t be a distraction, the longer his future is unresolved, surely it will be in the back of his mind.

We had a sneak-peak in 2016-2017 with Wilshere playing on-loan at Bournemouth. Perhaps next season we’ll see Wilshere playing away from the Arsenal colors again. This time, on a permanent basis, unless Wenger changes his mind.

Wenger deflects criticism on his job as manager

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Arsene Wenger doesn’t seem too worried about his job prospects for the coming year, despite Arsenal losing its past two games, including a 3-0 drubbing to Manchester City in the Carabao Cup final.

Speaking ahead of a second matchup with Man City, this time in the Premier League, Wenger said it’s his “last worry” to think about whether he’ll be in charge of Arsenal next season. Arsenal has lost six of its 12 matches in 2018 and sits 27 points behind Man City, and perhaps more importantly, 10 points behind Tottenham for the final UEFA Champions League place.

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“I’ve turned the whole world down to respect my contracts,” Wenger said. “My position is the last worry I have at the moment. My worry is to get the team focused and ready for tomorrow’s game.”

Wenger is facing new calls for him to be sacked from the Arsenal fans, and there were even reports after the horrid display at Wembley on Sunday that Arsenal would review this summer whether it would keep Wenger for the second year of the two-year contract he signed in May 2017.

We’ve already wrote that it’s time for Arsenal to hit the reset button, but Wenger isn’t hearing the criticism, saying he’s “amazed” he keeps getting asked questions about his contract situation.

Arsenal complete record signing of Aubameyang

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Arsenal has started transfer deadline day with a bang.

For the second time in six months, Arsenal has broken its club transfer record, shelling out a reported $78.5 million to sign striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang from Borussia Dortmund. This deal gets the dominos moving today, with Arsenal’s Olivier Giroud expected to complete a nearly $25 million move across town to Chelsea while Michy Batshuayi moves to Dortmund on-loan through the end of the season.

[MORE: Catch up on all the latest transfer buzz]

The signing reunites Aubameyang with his former Dortmund teammate Henrik Mkhitaryan as well as Arsenal chief scout Sven Mislintat, who Arsenal hired from Dortmund in 2017.

On paper, this is a great signing from Arsenal, with one of the world’s best strikers joining the club. After becoming a house-hold name in Europe with AS Saint-Etienne, Aubameyang became a legend at Dortmund, scoring 141 goals in 4.5 years.

And he proved his worth not just in the Bundesliga, but in Europe, scoring 11 goals in the 2015-2016 edition of the UEFA Europa League and seven goals in nine games in last year’s Champions League campaign.

Even with rumors since the summer of an impending move away from Dortmund, Aubameyang still managed to score 13 league goals and four Champions League goals in just 22 games this season, a very impressive strike-rate.

While this looks great on paper, it may not be what Arsenal really needed, given its performance on Tuesday evening at Swansea. Defensively, the club is a mess – it can be argued they never replaced Patrick Vieira – and they desperately have needed top-quality centerbacks and holding midfielders for years. Instead, the manager goes out and spends a club-record fee in back to back windows on two strikers, Alexandre Lacazette and Aubameyang.

It remains to be seen how Lacazette and Aubameyang will play together, whether as part of a 4-2-3-1 with Aubameyang playing as a second striker or on the wings, or whether Aubameyang pushes Lacazette out all together.

Based on Lacazette’s start to his Arsenal career, the club certainly won’t reap much back for him on the transfer market if they decide to sell him, but to be fair to Lacazette, his signing was curious as Arsenal hasn’t been very good recently at crossing and he’s best at picking out crosses in the box.

Aubameyang also excels at that, but he’s adept at link-up play and even at 29-years old, provides a speed option up top to stretch opposing defenses.

In Giroud, Arsenal are again selling a popular player to a league rival, this time to Chelsea after Manchester United signed Alexis Sanchez earlier this month. Giroud had 5.5 solid but never spectacular years at Arsenal and with just one start this season, he’s departed looking for more playing time ahead of the 2018 World Cup.

Unfortunately for him, he’ll be playing behind Alvaro Morata – should he be fit – for the rest of 2018.

Wilshere plays down latest injury in social media post

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You can forgive Arsenal fans for assuming the worst after Jack Wilshere left Arsenal’s League Cup match with Chelsea on Wednesday with a leg injury.

Luckily for them, and Arsenal as a whole, the injury is not as bad as once feared.

That’s according to Wilshere himself, anyway, who posted on his official Twitter account to thank the fans for their messages of support and to update everyone, stating he’d only be out “a couple” of days.

Wilshere appeared to hurt his ankle closing down Chelsea’s Cesar Azpilicueta about 10 minutes into the second half. After getting some quick treatment, Wilshere returned to the field only to fall back to the turf and need to be substituted off.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger had already ruled Wilshere out for Sunday’s match against Bournemouth. Wilshere is coming off his first consistent string of 90-minute performances for Arsenal for the first time since early in the 2014-2015 season.

After Bournemouth, Arsenal is off during the mid-week as it prepares for Crystal Palace on January 20.